Possibly a musicians most precious asset is their hearing. You really should read this. This is a true story.

I had played drums in bands since I was about 16 with no ill effects, apart from the usual drummers lunacy. Then when I was 28, around September 1990, The Apartment, the band I was the drummer of, was asked, to play a gig with a band called The Ghost of an American Airman that had just recorded its debut album, and was dong a bit of a promotional tour. We agreed, loaded the van and drove off down from Hull to some college near Telford in Shropshire.
When we got there everything was fine. Nice big stage, we could use a load of their stuff. I had to use their drummers kit because of the micing implications. Not something I liked doing because his set-up was very different to mine, less drums and cymbals set much nearer the drummer, but you deal with it. Also they had quite a rig. A large PA, full on-stage monitoring and proper sound guys.
The Ghost did their sound check. The other band on with them that night was touring with them so the sound engineer could tweak their sound to suit from experience for their sound check and set. We did a sound check and were ready go, so off we went.
The sound desk was on the stage, off to my left, and I could see that the sound guy evidently was not entirely happy with the sound. Even after we had done our sound checks he seemed to be knob fiddling during our set. I was about to reap the benefits or otherwise of his knob obsession.
We used a wide dynamic range in our music from very quiet to pretty bloody loud. We had tiny singer but she was operatically trained and could she belt it out. Didnt need a mic half the time. Things were going along quite nicely until we got to a very quiet bit in one of our songs, couldn not tell you which one, which was to be followed by one of our rather more forceful bits volume-wise. This quiet bit was the moment at which the sound guy decided to turn up the volume on the drummers on-stage, 4x12 raised stack, which was about shoulder height and two feet to my left.
My monitor volume had been fine and then in one beat, we came in. The guitarist, bass and keyboard players hit their chords, I hit the my kick drum and twin crash cymbals, the singer belted out a powerful note and as all this came out of the drum monitor the hearing in my left ear belted out through the right side of my head and didnt come back for 5 months. The rest of the gig was a little difficult as was any later conversation. The headache was a good un and no prizes for guessing who our only van driver was.

Now a little experiment for you.

Stick your finger in your left ear. Now imagine, if you dont already suffer from it, having a high pitched whine in your head at the same time all the time. That was what it was like for me for those five months.
I had to see hearing specialists at hospital, I had to see them and lip read because I couldn,t hear them properly. I was told that hopefully the hearing in my left ear would come back with time. Like I say it took five months I was lucky with that but the high pitch whine, the Tinnitus, has never and will never go away. It gets worse over time and exposure to loud noise.
I was advised to retire. Good advice really. I was the drummer and backing vocalist. I couldn,t stand loud noises, was losing my timing and could no longer work out pitch properly for singing. I continued to play on for a couple of months but I couldn,t cut it anymore. I knew it and the band knew it. I was insecure in my place in the band so when an argument brewed, over an experimental drum pattern for a new song, and got heated, I saw out our existing commitments and quit.
A few months later the hearing in my left ear came back. Like I say, that bit was lucky. However, ever since I have been uncomfortable in pubs. Once they get fuller and as the volume rises, especially with womens voices due to the higher pitch, I either can not stay or have to use ear-plugs which makes trying to have a conversation pointless. So I just dont bother. Clubs, barely been in one since and even then had to use ear plugs again. Gigs? You guessed it, ear plugs and Ive got to really want to see the band.
But Tinnitus affects you in other ways. I used to hate having a ticking clock in my bedroom. Drove me mad. Now I have ticking clocks everywhere in the house. When I watch tv, talk to people, read, work, drive my car, ride my motor bike, listen to music, in fact every waking moment all the time there,s this high pitch whine in my head. Of course is worse at night. So the loudest clock is in the bedroom. So you avoid quiet places as well as loud.
I did play again, for Arrad, some years later but mostly as a keyboard player where I could manage the volumes and wear headphones. Ive hit a kit a few times since but with restraint and with tissue paper in my ears.

Tinnitus is for Life not just Gig night.

It never gets better, only worse. As yet Tinnitus is incurable and pain killers don,t cut it.
So, look after your hearing. Oh and sound engineers that goes for you too. It may have happened later but it happened to me then and I regularly feel like sticking pins into an effigy of the guy who played with his knob. I never really met him or knew his name but he has had a huge and adverse effect on me for the last 21 years and will do for the rest of my life.

So what can you do.

Turn it down. If you have to play to the volume your drummer plays, get him or her, lighter sticks, brushes, better still, technique lessons so that they can play quietly and accurately without the volume. When you turn it down you can get a much better idea of how good you are, or are not, doing. That goes for the electric instruments as well.
Volume and distortion is not everything and its not only guitars, amps and speakers that distort. Your ears do too and if you play at ear distorting volumes you not only run the risk of damaging your hearing, and that of everyone around you, but also you can not hear what is happening in the music properly. So for your own, your musics and any audiences sake, turn it down.
Bands that play at full volume all the time can get boring as there is no dynamic range to the music. Oh and boring is crap. If you are too loud and crap we dont want to have to hear you. If you are using volume to mask your lack of ability and technique, turn it down and get better or quit, you are not good enough.

A little harsh? Ok there is another way.

Invest in proper musicians earplugs which reduce the volume but maintain the sound integrity. You may deafen everyone else but save your hearing and sanity in the long run.

Monitor earphones.

If you can afford them, and have a PA system try getting a headphone amp splitter and using these professional babies. You can block a lot of the external sound and blend the sound you need to perform and rehearse more effectively.
So If you are a musician, or someone who works with bands and you find your ears are ringing after playing. If it goes away the next day, thats pretty normal, you may not have the starting of Tinnitus or you may but the damage isn not permanent yet. I was like that until that night. But If the ringing, whining, whistling, swooshing, or whatever it is, is still there the after a couple of days it may be too late and you have got it for life.
Take care of your most precious asset. As the saying goes, take it from someone who knows.

Cheers. Iain White